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Algae in the Caloosahatchee in 2012


Caloosahatchee and Estuary Conditions -- Member Update July-August 2012

Rain! The annual Florida rainy season is getting started and we are pleased to see freshwater flow returning once again to the Caloosahatchee and estuary. For five of the past six drought years, the Caloosahatchee has been impacted by policy decisions that cut off freshwater flow to the river and estuary during the dry season.

Getting water for the river is one of the “water equity” issues we face in the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), where water for natural systems is not protected, prioritized or supplied on par with permitted users such as agriculture and municipal operations.  In 2011, citing drought conditions, the SFWMD cut off all flow to the Caloosahatchee for nearly four months beginning in March while permitted users still got water for another two months — until May — before water restrictions were initiated. Even then, they were never completely cut off. 

The Caloosahatchee suffered eight weeks of public health warnings when harmful algae and dead fish accumulated in the river because water needed by the estuary to prevent high salinities and algae blooms was redirected to the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) south of Lake Okeechobee.  The policy inequity is demonstrated in the way water was managed that year. From November through June the Caloosahatchee needs just one inch of water per month off Lake Okeechobee: a total of eight inches. From November 2010 through June 2011, the SFWMD sent a total of just 1.3 inches to the Caloosahatchee while it sent 24 inches — two feet — of lake water south into the EAA. Sending the final two inches off the lake to the EAA caused Lake Okeechobee levels to drop enough to cause the failure of nearly all the endangered snail kite nests on the lake that spring. 

Even though conditions this year were a bit different, the outcome was the same. Despite drought forecasts last fall, water levels in Lake Okeechobee never got close to the “50% chance of water shortage” prediction, even though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) and SFWMD were providing pulse flows to the Caloosahatchee. However, the SFWMD cut off of all water this spring for 42 days to the Caloosahatchee, even though no other users were restricted at all.
Talking to U.S. Sugar representatives about the drought this year, they said they had no drought, they had a record harvest! Their record harvest came at the expense of the Caloosahatchee, which has suffered a complete loss of vital tape grass nursery habitat for the fifth year in the last six because the salinities got too high. This is the inequity that must be addressed.

Public water must be planned for in the permitting process and delivered to support natural systems. But the policies in place today prioritize private users over natural systems, leaving natural systems to suffer the consequences and shoulder the burden of water shortage through the loss of habitat and nursery grounds and the devastation of water quality. 

There is still algae in the River - May 1

Seven days of flow, from rainfall and five days of plus released provided some flow to flush algae out of the Franklin pool.  Current alva bridgeconditions show algae accumulations heaviest on the east side of S79 indicating that additional flow is needed to flush the system.
-- from the 5/1/12 Caloosahatchee Conditions Report

The District agrees to minimal releases

Letter from SFWMD Executive Director Melissa Meeker sent April 23, 2012 in response to the April 20 letter.

Still no action from the District

In spite of the April 12 Governing Board decision, the Caloosahatchee has still not received freshwater from the lake.  On April 20, local stakeholders sent a letter to SFWMD Executive Director Melissa Meeker.

Governing Board approves pulse release at April 12 meeting

The District committed to a pulse release at the April 12 Governing Board meeting to flush out the algae but probably not to relieve salinity levels.  Details are not yet known.
Story in the News-Press, April 12.
Story on WINK-TV, April 12
Story on NBC-2 TV, April 12

Please Help!  Write the District and the Corps Now!

The SFWMD Governing Board meets in West Palm Beach on April 12.  Please write to both the Corps and the District and tell them we need Lake O releases to the Caloosahatchee to prevent another disastrous algal bloom in the Caloosahatchee.

Sample letter to the District as a Word doc    Click here for District contact info.

Sample letter to the Corps as a Word doc    Click here for Corps contact info.

Read the Guest Opinion by Rae Ann Wessel in April 9 News-Press
Read "Salt Wounds the Caloosahatchee" in the April 10 News-Press

Some of the letters sent by the community:
Sign-on letter from Lee County, the City of Sanibel, SCCF and "Ding" Darling NWR
Letter from U.S. Representative Gary Aubuchon
Letter from City of Fort Myers Mayor Henderson
Email from Sanibel's CASI to the Corps    to the District
Letter from Paul Roth, President, SCCF Board of Trustees to the District

The Lee County Department of Health posted a health warning on the river on April 11. 

Background

Toxic Bluegreen Algae in the River -- April 3, 2012

Through the end of March, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was provided minimal freshwater releases to the Caloosahatchee from Lake Okeechobee but following the decision at the March South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board meeting to unilaterally cut off all flow to the Caloosahatchee, the Corps has discontinued the releases.  After just one week of receiving no flow from the lake, there is now a toxic bluegreen algal bloom in the Caloosahatchee between La Belle and the Franklin Lock (S-79).  Last year, the health departments of Lee, Hendry and Glades counties ALL posted warning signs, closing the river to fishing and swimming due to algal blooms.  Info and photos of the 2011 bloom and the 2010 bloom